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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder


It arrived amidst all the junk mail--the catalogs I never ordered, postcards from AARP, announcements about new senior communities in my area, discount coupons for items I'll never use. I stand at the kitchen counter, and either my husband or I rip these unintended insults of paper and time into tiny pieces before dumping them in the garbage. I was just about ready to toss the entire mess when I noticed a letter, a real letter with my name and address written by hand, a stamp, and, on the back, the sender's return address.

Like you, I receive scores of emails, Facebook posts, tweets every day--most of them immediately deleted. But a letter! A muted blue envelope with news inside. Before opening it, Joe Cocker's song ran through my brain:

"Give me a ticket for an airoplane
I ain't got time to take no fast train
The lonely days are gone
I'll be right home
My baby she wrote me a letter."

Well, this letter wasn't from my "baby" but from the California realtor who did her best to find us a home out there on the Left Coast--before the fires, before the decimation of the town of Paradise. I felt bad that the realtor had spent so much time with us, sending us listings, showing us homes when we went house hunting in Sonoma County, hooking us up with mortgage brokers, banks . . . You name it, she pulled out all the stops. But then we stopped. California was too far, too risky but, oh, so lovely when natural disasters held their breath and behaved themselves.

The letter, a note, really, held such promise with its etchings of buds on branches (There will be spring!), a star in the middle, encircled by dotted lines that reminded me of twinkling lights connected in a random design.

And the letter? Chatty, upbeat, a call to get in touch. So much more meaningful than an email or post with cute emojis that seem trite in comparison to the written word.

Not long after receiving the letter, I was cleaning my office in a mad attempt to find my tax "workbook" that I'd stashed away for safekeeping. I emptied every shelf, went through the folders in alphabetical order, cleared my desk drawers, my closet stuffed with books, photos, suitcases, an obsolete printer, an old Apple laptop, a hole puncher, hand weights, users' guides collecting dust, architectural house plans, a bag of jewelry I'd planned on selling at a garage sale, a bin of research papers from the book I wrote twenty years ago, a travel iron, blowup hangers, an exercise ball still in the package, unused notebooks BUT no tax workbook.

I spent four hours. My knees hurt from kneeling on the wood floor, my back tightened from all the bending. In a last-ditch effort, I yanked open the drawers to my filing cabinet again and went through every folder from A to Z. Nothing under F for federal taxes. Nothing under S for state taxes. Nothing under R, the first letter of my accountant's firm. Nothing, nada. And why would it be under T for taxes when that was the first place I looked? But what the hell? What did I have to lose? And, yes, you guessed it: there in the folder marked T was a manilla folder with the words Taxes 2020 scrawled in black marker!

What does this have to do with the letter I'd received? Well, let me explain. During my four-hour Kafcaeque nightmare, I found things that I'd been missing or that I'd forgotten even existed. One of those was a handmade box marked "Jane Wrote A Letter." There had been a dinner party the year before, and each guest was given the name of another guest and told to make or buy a unique "gift." I don't remember what I came up with, certainly not something handmade. But dear Kevin, clever as he is, created the "Jane Wrote A Letter" box.

Inside, there were all kinds of goodies: several envelopes, one with a stamp; a small lined notebook; postcards and notes (My favorite from Hornick & Elton Undertakers); another with the caption "The Hand of Satan On The Sea of Darkness"; a string (maybe to use around a package?); notepaper from Wright Chemicals for control of "Corrosion, Scale, Slime and Algae"; and a rather salacious card of a frog in between a naked woman's legs with the caption, "Gone fishin."

Why hadn't I written a letter? Why hadn't I'd at least sent a thank you note? I thought about it, I really did. But today with all of its uncertainty, sheltering in place, social distancing, I sat down at my desk and, in my best penmanship and with deep gratitude, I wrote two letters--one to the realtor, the other to the creator of the "Jane Wrote A Letter" box.


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